Cey Adams is a legendary New York City graffiti artist, was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings, and has been called “the artist who defined the visual culture of American hip-hop.” His logo for the Beastie Boys is iconic. Adams is also a visual artist, who has exhibited throughout the U.S., including at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and MoCA Los Angeles.
Currently, Adams is showing new work in an exhibition at St. Paul’s NewStudio Gallery. “Cey Adams: ETCetera, 40 Years of Art and Design,” he explains, “is an outgrowth of my ‘Trusted Brands’ series of collage paintings and works on paper. The exhibition represents my 40-year career in art and design and showcases new work that revisits past inspirations from a new perspective.”
View the exhibition in-person from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday until August 12 at NewStudio Gallery, or enjoy the exhibition and purchase work via a 3D visualization on the website. The gallery will also host a closing party with Cey Adams on August 12 from 5-8 p.m. All work in the exhibition, including pieces designed by Adams and screen printed by Burlesque of North America, is available for purchase.
All Adams’ pieces—vibrant, nostalgic, and hinting at larger cultural issues—is original and on paper. Among the pieces are collages combining numbers, paint, paper, text, imagery, and technique into visual storytelling. “In 2012,” Adams says, “I started making collage paintings as a way of combining the different disciplines from my art career: graffiti, painting, graphic design, typography, logo design, and branding.”
Many of the works also revisit, with exquisite detail and technique, the brands Adams enjoyed in his youth, including Zenith, RC Cola, PanAm, RCA, and Hot Wheels. “The vintage images, characters, and mascots in these pieces are used as metaphors to analyze significant questions about celebrity in American culture,” Adams says. “The focus of the work is to raise questions about our values, consumerism, community, race, class, and history.”
A New York City native, Cey emerged from the downtown graffiti movement to exhibit alongside fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. As the creative director of Def Jam Recordings, he created visual identities, album covers, logos, and campaigns for Run DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Notorious B.I.G., Maroon 5, and Jay-Z.
In 2019, Adams was one of 12 national artists chosen to participate in the first annual Chroma Zone mural fest. He painted his LOVE mural on the side of the Hampden Park Co-op in St. Paul. More recently, he designed the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap, produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Adams, 60, began making art when he was a teenager. “I’m excited to still be here; I’m a representative for my generation of artists,” he says. This exhibition documents his longevity and the creative impulse that continues to inspire new work. “To have started so young, and to still be making work at a high level, that’s my definition of success.”